Black Voices in Tech: How Mentorship Changed My Life

Headshot of tech adjacent mentee and career coach Ibiyemi Balogun

Hey folks!

This month we’re tilling the soil for growth and career acceleration through mentorship. Research shows that mentees are promoted five times more often than people without mentors, and mentors are six times more likely to get a promotion in their jobs. 

Today, we had a great sit-down with a tech adjacent mentee and career coach – Ibiyemi Balogun, MBA, CHRP,  Manager, Graduate Careers & Student Engagement at Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University. Ibiyemi shares how the CULTIVATE mentorship initiative at BPTN was a contributing factor in changing her life and shaping her next career move as a Black professional.

Ibiyemi started her career working in diversity recruitment, where she supported new immigrants, persons with disabilities, new grads and members of the armed forces, to overcome career barriers. During her interactions with these different cohorts, she noticed common mistakes these candidates  were making that impeded their ability to successfully nail interviews and secure jobs. She felt inclined to start a free coaching session outside of work, which paved the way for her to hone her coaching and mentorship skills.

“I was helping young professionals clarify their career aspirations, while modifying their resumes. I was also interviewing and supporting their overall job search. What started as a side gig/ passion project  gave way to a professional role at Ryerson University that I worked in for over 2 1/2 years. I coached and planned conferences and events for about 2,500 students in the business technology management portfolio. Afterwards, I transitioned into a business development role where I helped clients in the Technology industry to recruit and hire diverse students including Black talent. There, I took the opportunity to further invest in the mentorship program BPTN had to offer.”

Mentorship has always been an important tool that influenced Ibiyemi’s career trajectory. She has always looked for opportunities to be a mentor while also being a mentee. Being in both seats allowed her to broaden her perspective and reach. 

“A friend of mine told me about the CULTIVATE mentorship program and I signed up to be a part of it. It was an opportunity for me to lean into the Black community. My first group mentoring session went well, and I was paired with my mentor Ben Wise, who introduced me to other professionals in his network. During that time, I wanted to pursue a career in Tech sales and I realized that BPTN is a network where I can build relationships without feeling like I’m constantly auditioning for a job. Mentorship helps you uncover the power of the community around you.”

“I’ve been on both sides of the fence; either as a mentor or mentee. I’ve seen people change their lives.  As a mentee, mentorship lets me be honest with myself and my capabilities. It’s naive to think you can do it all by yourself. It opens up your knowledge base because you have access to people who can help you along your career journey.”

When we asked Ibiyemi what her experience was like in the CULTIVATE program, and what she would say to anyone who hasn’t considered mentorship, this was her response:

“It’s important to seek out mentorship even if you are afraid or unaware of what the possible outcome could be. Rather than being fearful, I treat everyone as a human being first and this allows me to connect with them based on our shared experience as humans. For me, everything in the CULTIVATE program was very organic. I was paired with a great mentor, who asked us to create a personal “board of directors,” which was a list of all the people we get mentorship from. That exercise helped me to see how wide my network is. I was able to see who was in my corner. Mentorship is ultimately about connecting with someone who has been there before you and can show you the ropes. It’s amazing.”

While many people want help  with honing their skills, they may be afraid to step into large mentorship groups. For introverts, the thought in itself can even be too much to handle and fear often prevails. Although Ibiyemi is an extrovert, she also believes that mentorship is especially helpful and could be a go-to for people that are more introverted. 

She advises that even if you are scared, do it anyway. “It’s important to ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen? If it doesn’t hurt, it’s worth something. Go into mentorship with the mindset of building a relationship rather than “leveraging a connection” and you will find it more fulfilling. Understand why mentorship is important: it’s like coaching or even therapy, because it is an opportunity to optimize what you know regardless of what level you are in your career. You’ll learn, meet new people, and you inevitably grow from it.”

Since the pandemic, the world has become a virtual hub – impacting mentoring sessions and meet-ups in some way or another. While some people see the new normal of fewer face-to-face interactions as a deterrent for networking and mentorship, Ibiyemi, thinks otherwise.

“As a career coach, I like to focus on opportunities. Being virtual is an opportunity to network with people outside your current organization, city or country. Virtual life is limitless. You can do self-discovery and expand your reach beyond the people in your office.  If you put yourself out there, you are bound to experience new things.” 

As a career coach and tech adjacent (someone who understands tech but isn’t working directly in the field) we asked what are common mistakes students or professionals make when entering tech and how to avoid them?

“People are getting into fields like tech, for the wrong reasons. There’s a huge trend of people wanting to transition into the tech industry almost like a “tech peer pressure” and it can sometimes be detrimental.  Some people don’t know why they want to be in tech and  others want to be in tech because their friends are in tech. You should know what you like or don’t like and lean into that. Know your why; know what your strengths and passions are and follow that rather than keeping up with an industry trend. If it leads you to tech, that’s fantastic and if not, that’s alright too. The BPTN CULTIVATE program opened me up to many industry professionals in Tech sales and that was ultimately one of the reasons why I decided to NOT pursue a career in that field. People spoke candidly about their experience and it allowed me to examine my motives for Tech Sales and it ultimately did not align with me.”

Finally, as a professional who has worked with clients and companies looking to hire and retain Black talent, Ibiyemi shared some insights on how they can better manage expectations and prepare their workplace for such a change.

“Companies have to start by knowing their level of inclusivity. Audit your hiring practices, the culture and diversity in your organization before you consider hiring diverse talents. Is this something your company is ready to talk about? What will a Black person’s experience be like when they start working for you? Clean up your house first before you bring Black people or any other equity seeking group into an environment that could be potentially toxic or challenging.” 

It was great chatting with Ibiyemi and there are lots of takeaways on the value of mentorship. 

About CULTIVATE Mentorship Initiative

The CULTIVATE mentorship initiative is open to mentees between 18-29 years old, who reside in Canada and self-identify as Black. The minimum time commitment for CULTIVATE is six months with a possibility of continuing the mentorship relationship if both parties agree. Mentors in CULTIVATE should reside in Canada and be either self-identify as Black or consider themself an ally.

Before you go, remember this is the last week and your last chance to win a LinkedIn Learning license when you sign up on Obsidi.com

See you next time!